Amid criticism, Iran says its uranium enrichment steps are reversible and for peaceful purposes only.
Germany, France and Britain have said they are “deeply concerned” at Iran’s move to step up its uranium enrichment, warning of “very significant” risks.
On Tuesday, Iran said it was now refining uranium to 20 percent purity, the biggest break yet from its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal struck with world powers.
Iran’s increased uranium enrichment triggered international concern because it is seen as a significant step towards the 90 percent level required for a nuclear weapon.
The purpose of the deal was to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon – something Tehran insists it does not want to do.
“This action, which has no credible civil justification and carries very significant proliferation-related risks, is in clear violation of Iran’s commitments,” the European trio said on Wednesday.
“We strongly urge Iran to stop enriching uranium to up to 20 percent without delay, reverse its enrichment program to the limits agreed in the [agreement] and to refrain from any further escalatory steps which would further reduce the space for effective diplomacy.”
The landmark 2015 deal agreed between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union has been fraying since President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran.
Earlier this week, the European Union warned Iran’s move would be a “considerable departure” from Tehran’s commitments under its 2015 nuclear deal and would have “serious nuclear non-proliferation implications.
New US administration
The three European signatories to the deal, known as the E3, cautioned in their statement that Tehran’s latest move “risks compromising the important opportunity for a return to diplomacy with the incoming US administration”.
The Iranian government has signalled a readiness to engage with US President-elect Joe Biden, who has expressed willingness to return to diplomacy with Tehran.
A decision to begin enriching to 20 percent purity a decade ago nearly triggered an Israeli strike targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The tensions only abated with the 2015 deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.